What Egypt Portends

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Egyptian Pyramids

Egyptian Pyramids

Egyptians are undertaking their final lap into the 20th and 21st centuries. The people of several Middle Eastern nations including, Yemen and Tunisia, are also pushing to finish this final lap toward political modernity which, marked the 20th century in other places like Japan, Germany, South Eastern Asian nations, and the Eastern Communist Bloc nations, after the fall of the Soviet Union.

I am hearing some in the media launch criticism that this is coming late, and the fault of Western nations propping up dictator regimes. I couldn't disagree more. Never before, in the history of mankind, has there been such a dramatic and rapid conversion of political regimes from one type to another. A little over 2 centuries ago, there were only two democracies in the world, and they were young, flawed, and inexperienced. Today, non-democratic societies are the minority in the world. Even China with its politburo and central command political structure has developed a people's Congress with elected representatives, though their power is very limited and constrained.

This is very rapid evolution, considering the Roman Empire took hundreds of years to decline out of existence, and feudalism and monarchism dominated more than 2 thousand years throughout the world. Then, in the relative blink of an eye, the world converted in large part toward democratic political regimes, a scant 2 centuries. Islamic Middle Eastern nations, the Soviet Union, and China were the longest holdouts. But, their time to convert, will no longer be denied by their people. The people of China, and the Middle East are now aware of the enormous benefits of democratically elected government through their recent acquisition of borderless communications; the internet, and cell phone technology, not to mention international travel. These technologies have brought into their view and understanding the disparity between their own lives, and those of people living in democratic societies.

This is clearly not a case of the grass being greener on the other side of the fence; an illusion based on the refraction of light off the grass at an angle, exposing more of the shadows, deepening the appearance of the green. The grass in democratic societies is truly greener, in the sense of greater freedom of choice and prosperity for the common people. Understanding this, the people of Egypt, Tunisia, and Yemen will no longer be denied by their so called, 'benevolent dictators'.

There is an apparent sequence to this phenomena of political evolution which approximates the following. First their comes population consolidation into resource rich areas, requiring government and order and law be created to manage the distribution of those resources and maintenance of a semblance of justice and peaceful relations amongst dense populations. This demand for order and allocation of resources is quickly seized upon by opportunists, seeking to harvest the bulk of the fruits of those resources for themselves, resulting in monarchies like the Czars of Russia, and dictators like Mussolini, Hitler, and Hirohito. The marriage of greed and power however, inevitably leads to a subsistence poverty, or worse (Sudan) for the majority of the people of such a nation ruled by authoritarian figures, as those figures seek to maximize their gains and minimize the sharing of it with their people. The people become tools of the state toward the ends of their leaders.

Revolutions are an inevitable result of this stage of political evolution, as the search for a better regime is undertaken, elevating new leaders with promises of improving the people's lot. But, such promises are subject to the whims of those leaders, who will, even if sincere in the beginning, become corrupted by the authoritarian bureaucracy that builds up around them, and their successors from the ranks of opportunists in that bureaucracy. Not until the French and American revolutions, and with the advent of the printing press, did that search for a better political regime after revolution, offer up the choice of government of, by, and for the people; what we call today, democratic society. But, oh, how fast it has spread around the globe.

We tend to try to view history through the context of our own short lives. In fact, without an education in history, one is limited to doing just that. But social and cultural and political change culminate over the course of many lifetimes. From an historical point of view, the spread of democratic regimes has occurred at breakneck speed. From the personal lifetime experience, it appears to be taking an eternity. Time is relative in this way, and critics arguing the West should have used more force to hasten the evolution of democracy throughout the world, are limited by this personal view of history, and in flagrant disregard for the costs that such an endeavor toward world conquest by democracy would incur.

Democracy can be imposed upon one nation by another, as was the case with Japan and West Germany after WWII. But the cost was enormous, and would have been crippling if world war had been continued in the name of democratizing all the world's societies. Democracy can fail, if the people it is imposed upon have not elected it for themselves, or they are not sufficiently versed in its working structures and safeguards. The case of S. Viet Nam was a case in point, in which democratic elections were accompanied by time honored corruption and greed, carryovers of the feudal system just decades previously. People will not fight for what they don't understand. And democracy has to be fought for, on a constant basis, as corruption and greed are not forces that even a democratic society can rid themselves of. But, they can protect their democracy from those forces by a number of measures, if the people understand the measures, and need for them.

Such measures include a Constitutional framework of law, that is neither easily, nor quickly, altered by temporary office holders. Another is a free and independent press, giving voice and representation to the people and their concerns and demands, without government interference. Another is the 'to die for', right of peaceable assembly by the people to associate with each other without fear or retribution by government office holders. These are complicated legal rights, in which all stake holders will have an interest in either supporting, or subverting. Hence the need for such rights to be encased in a Constitutional framework, outside of executive or military control. Such complicated concepts and systems are not natural to to the world's hard working and honest people. They come with a relatively high priced education in history, literature, and philosophy, which creates potential democratically oriented leaders to arise from the public, as representatives of that public.

From such an education, informal or formal, arise names like Lech Walesa, Mohandas Gandhi, George Washington, and Martin Luther King, who did not set out to become political leaders, or politicians, but, instead, spokespersons for the awakening of the public toward democratic alternatives to the political regimes that previously failed. Democracy is something that must arise from within the minds and hearts of the people, with an educable awareness of both how hard, and beneficial, democratic processes are to install and keep, as well as how liberating they can be for the common man and woman in that society.  One has to have exposure to such processes, for a desire for them to arise.

The reason Egypt, Tunisia, and Yemen are late to the democratic table, is simply a lack of exposure to the concepts, ideas, and benefits of democratically elected government in the fashion of the West. Cheap cell phones, internet access, and broadcast media like Al-Jezeera brought this about over the last decade. Their dictators could not prevent this exposure any longer in the wake of these new, cheap, and accessible technologies. The West can, and should, side with these peoples, but, for democracy to take root and last in these nations, it must come from the people themselves, as it did in nearly every other democratized nation, Germany and Japan excepted. Any attempts by the west to intrude democracy upon these people will divide them, and the prospects for democratic success. Civil war is not a healthy breeding ground for democratic forms of government. Civil war is fertile ground for martial law and military juntas. Civil war gives the opportunists too wide a field to operate in in the persuasion of the people. The people have to be largely united behind their demand for democratic processes, if they are to take root and grow strong.

Democracy is still a relatively young political regime, in historical time. There are not millennia of recorded cases of success and failure, though there are far more cases of success than failure in the short time of constitutional democracy's existence in modern times. Our founders were not geniuses who fabricated democracy and our Constitution out of thin air and benevolent desires to do good by their fellow men. Our founders were largely learned men and versed in classical literature to include the Athenian model of democracy, and writers moving in that philosophical direction from the 14th and 15th century Humanist period.

A couple of these writers read by our Founders were Fran├žois Rabelais and Michel de Montaigne, along with others seeking to unveil the wisdom and alternatives offered up by the ancient Greek and Roman classical periods. Contemporary writers read by our Founder's included Rousseau and Voltaire. The point being, that our Founders were not the inventors of the idea of democracy, or democratic principles. They were, however, the well read implementers of it for themselves and their countrymen. One can say they were enormously successful, in all, as judged by America's stature today. Democracy in America developed and grew from within the minds of its own leadership with concepts and history borrowed from writers of foreign nations and distant times in history. Hence, my claim that democracy requires exposure and education.

The people of many of the nations of the Middle East have not had the benefit of such education and exposure to democratic ideas, processes, and outcomes, until the end of the 20th century. Their time for democratic demands had not yet come. With the advent of global, interconnected, and inexpensive new communication technologies, these people are now exposed to, and to some extent, educated by, the media of the Democratic world, and their time has come to demand the same benefits for themselves. Democracy has always come at great expense to those demanding it for themselves. Egypt, Yemen, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Tunisia are no exception. They must fight for, and earn it for themselves from within their own culture. It will not come freely or cheaply. But, if they succeed, the rewards will more than outweigh the costs of achieving democratic freedom.

We, the rest of the world, should encourage and applaud their efforts. We, however, cannot do their fighting, learning, and earning for them. We democratic peoples of the world, will spend our time and resources far more prudently, shoring up and strengthening our own democracies against the omnipresent forces of greed and power that daily threaten it. Democracy is something free people have to fight for every day of its existence. There is no dearth of individuals who would use the rewards of democratic life to subvert it for their own selfish purposes (e.g. Bernie Madoff, et. al. and Koch Brothers). That is a lesson Americans, for example, are still struggling with, the hard way.

Egypt portends an evolution of political regime throughout the Middle East, and a future in which the Middle Eastern nations constitute a more stable and peaceful group of societies for the rest of the world to interact with. It will not be a smooth nor humane evolution. Democracy always takes a toll on human life at its birth. But, the promise of a longer and more prosperous life for those born into it, is the light that draws aware and informed people to it, with sacrifice and commitment that will not be turned back.

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This page contains a single entry by David R. Remer published on February 7, 2011 12:42 PM.

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